South Carolina Lawyer
SC Lawyer, November 2007, #6.
Ethics Watch Executive Order 2007-16
South Carolina LawyerNovember 2007Ethics Watch Executive Order 2007-16By John FreemanGov. Mark Sanford issued Executive Order 2007-16 on September 20, 2007. It is a document that is of particular interest to lawyers who handle workers' compensation cases. Its significance is broader, however, for it presents further evidence of political pressures being exerted on our judicial system. This trend raises ethical issues for affected judges and lawyers.
Gov. Sanford's Order directs workers' compensation commissioners "in all contested cases to strictly apply either AMA Guides or any other accepted medical treatise or authority in making their injury compensation determinations" and to report back to the governor quarterly, "that they have used . . . such objective standards in making such compensation awards." The evident aim is to promote use of decision-making standards by workers' compensation commissioners calculated to yield lower awards to workers' compensation claimants. The governor demands in the Order that each workers' compensation commissioner file a quarterly report with the Office of the Governor attesting that his or her decision-making conforms to the guidelines specified by the governor in Order 2007-16. From an ethics standpoint, the Order is an intriguing document on multiple levels.
First, there is the issue of why the Order was issued in the first place. What is it that the governor's Order seeks to accomplish? If it simply amounts to an exhortation by the governor to the members of the Workers' Compensation Commission to please apply the law properly, then it certainly is unnecessary, since the commissioners are obligated to apply the law accurately to the best of their ability. They owe this duty based on their oath of office to discharge their duties to the best of their abilities and based on Canon 3B(2) of the Code of Judicial Conduct, which demands they be "faithful to the law." (Our workers' compensation commissioners are subject to the ethical rules for judges because of legislation enacted in 2006 which designates them to be operating under the Code of Judicial Conduct.) Hence, if the Order's intent merely was to convey that the commissioners should do the work they are sworn to do, it...